Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Clothes: Free. Guilt: None. Better Fashion Culture: Wanted.

One jade green Ann Taylor Loft top, made in China, one Anna Belen headband with yellow flower, and one Alba Hawaiian jasmine-scented moisturizer, $0.

One Banana Republic Italian wool sweater, made in Hong Kong, and scarf, country of origin and brand unknown, $0.

One Reflections Images of You silk houndstooth blouse, made in China, and black cashmere-silk Jones New York sweater vest, made in China, $0. Kind of Mad Men-ish, right? When I wore it a woman told me I looked "retro-y."

One cashmere Garnet Hill raspberry colored sweater, made in China, $0.

The feeling I get knowing that I haven't given any of my money to corporations using cheap foreign labor, kept things out of the landfill, and am empowering myself and others financially: priceless.

I co-hosted my seasonal clothing swap recently at work during our lunch hour, and for winter we've been including unwanted holiday gifts. I highly recommend it for frugal fun when everyone's bills are arriving in January, and we donate the leftovers to local charitable thrift shops.

I did spend some money on refreshments (ours were all Trader Joe's fare: guacamole, pineapple salsa, maple cookies, clementines, etc.) Some swaps have rules, but ours is very casual: give and take what you like.

As for the stigma against secondhand clothes, I'll never understand it. If people want to spend $90 at Banana Republic for a Chinese made sweater, go ahead.

Like hang drying laundry or park cleanups, clothing swaps (or any kind of swaps) are a grassroots thing. They just need one person to say, hey, let's hold a swap! Maybe that person is you! Have you ever attended a swap, or would like to organize one? I'm talking to more and more parents who are swapping baby's and children's toys, clothes and furniture.

A 1950s dress at The Family Jewels Vintage Shop in New York City, from an era of great style.

An observation on clothes today: I regularly visit thrift shops and attend estate sales as a hobby, and come across clothing spanning many decades. I have a lot of items with the union label on it (like Francie's father in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I wear it proudly, like a rose). Aside from the fact they've shifted 90 percent being made here to 90 percent now abroad, the quality, like many things, leaves a lot to be desired. So much of this cheap fashion is disposable.

I love clothes and fashion. I get almost all of it now through swaps, thrift shops and estate sales. I wish I could make my own clothes (still on my life 'to do' list). Maybe since I've time traveled so much through films and television shows, but also through old photo albums and what's offered at estate sales, I look at the style now and don't think there's much of one. I wish fashion would be more inspired and creative than UGG boots and Chinese made logo bags (if someone can explain the appeal of a bag with MK all over it, please do so). I think part of the draw of these bags is they are a safe accessory since almost every woman I know has body insecurity issues. I do too, that nagging voice is often there, wouldn't you look better if you lost a few pounds?

I look at photos of my grandmother and even at the end of her life she was dressed to the nines. Nice jewelry, her good perfume (Chanel), gloves, a handbag. Her generation wouldn't be caught dead wearing pink fuzzy pajama pants with Tweety bird on them in public (spotted at a Hackensack, New Jersey Barnes and Noble, but really I see this everywhere now and it's totally inappropriate). I was at Housing Works trift shop and picked up a pink Anne Klein suit the other day for $23 because I realized I didn't have one in my entire wardrobe. No special occasion like an interview. I just felt it was a welcome addition to a wardrobe of a 36-year-old woman. I'm proud of my age, I don't want to dress like a teenager or obsess over lost youth.

Maybe we don't have any great fashion role models today. Who were and are yours? In addition to the women in my family, I remember watching I Love Lucy reruns as a child and loving Lucy's cute hats and gloves, nice dress suits, black ballet flats. I cannot wait for Mad Men to come back on the air in large part for the fashion. During awards season, I'm always looking for Michelle Williams on the red carpet. In My Week With Marilyn, she showed as Marilyn how alluring a woman can look in just a white blouse and beige pencil skirt.

I definitely think women should start questioning more. Where is this made? How is this made? Is it a "good" bag or other item just because the retailer is charging $200 for it? What makes certain things so coveted? Since we've stopped questioning, all those manufacturing jobs slipped overseas, and fashion seems really boring and way too casual. Jeans are now too dressy or too much work to put on? There's some loss of civility in our "living room" culture (where to me so many act and dress like they are in their living rooms and not in public).

What are your thoughts on fashion in 2012 in America?


  1. Agree! Hate when people brag about getting cheap stuff in TJ Maxx or H&M rather than upscale places -- when meanwhile they don't stop to think that means there is cheap labor somewhere involved in that system that they're supporting.

  2. Hi Rachel! Thanks for commenting and the support. This is such an important issue. How did marketers and companies get the population to shift their buying habits and to not care? I hear a lot about greedy corporations, but where's the consumer's responsibility in all this? For the most part, I'm just not giving my money to these corporations for their cheap labor clothing, and I'm definitely encouraging women not to give money to companies like Coach which openly brags their bags are "hand crafted in China" and then charges top dollar and sells them to us as some status symbol.